Blagojevich fundraiser indicted on federal charges
October 11, 2006 (WLS) -- A federal indictment could have huge implications in the race for governor. Tony Rezko, a top fundraiser for Governor Rod Blagojevich, is charged in a multi-million dollar kick-back scheme. With just a month to go before the election, Wednesday's indictment could be political dynamite for Governor Blagojevich and Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka.
Federal prosecutors say Stuart Levine, a major contributor to the Blagojevich campaign, pleaded guilty in the corruption case. He is expected to testify against Rezko.
The feds say Tony Rezko became very proficient at the now familiar "Illinois squeeze," one hand placed tightly a business owner's shoulder and the other hand outstretched, awaiting payment. In one case, prosecutors say Rezko demanded a $1.5 million contribution to a "certain public official." They wouldn't name a name, but for 15 years, Rezko has had the ear of one public official.
This summer, Rezko whispered some last minute instructions to the governor before an appearance at a family celebration being held by some of Rezko's friends.
Video posted on a public video website shows Rezko directing Blagojevich through the crowd. Wednesday's federal festivities were more serious.
"Today we unsealed two indictments against Antoine 'Tony' Rezko. Both involved efforts to to illegally obtain millions of dollars," said Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney.
Rezko was indicted along with fellow Blagojevich advisor Stuart Levine on charges that they tried to shake down businesses hoping to do business with a state agency in Springfield, the teacher's pension board. According to the indictment, "Rezko and Levine solicited and demanded millions of dollars" in "undisclosed kickbacks and payments" and that they actually obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.
The FBI called its investigation Operation Boardgames. because the main players used the public as pawns.
"This is not a game. Important public decisions are reserved for the government for the benefit of the communities and not for the enrichment of private individuals. It doesn't matter if you're a corporate board member or a public board member," said Robert Grant, FBI Chicago.
Rezko, a developer who has done real estate deals with First Lady and realtor Patti Blagojevich, is a Chicago business magnate. His pizza eatery has a lucrative tollway contract.
Rezko was also indicted Wednesday on charges that he "fraudulently obtained more than $10 million in loans ... for a pizza restaurant business" and "defrauded investors in that business."
During the time of the alleged shakedown schemes, Rezko and Levine were very close associates of the governors.
A schedule for the governor from October 29, 2003, obtained by the I-Team, reveals how close: at 8 a.m. that day, it was wheels up on a state aircraft from O'Hare to Teterboro, New Jersey, for government and political meetings. The passenger manifest: Rod R. Blagojevich, Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk, Tony Rezko, Stuart Levine and indicted Democratic operative Joe Cari.
So where is Rezko? Apparently not at home on the North Shore. Wednesday afternoon FBI agents fanned out in Rezko's neighborhood looking to arrest him. They left empty-handed
Rezko is currently traveling, according to his lawyer Joe Duffy, and they are making an effort to notify him of the indictment and of a court hearing he needs to attend Friday morning or, say federal authorities, he will be considered a fugitive.
Rezko's son, who answered the door at their home Wednesday afternoon, told the I-Team that his father was in town, so it is a bit confusing.
Blagojevich said at a Wednesday night news conference that if the allegations against Rezko are true, he feels betrayed.
"God forbid he did these things and I pray that he didn't," Blagojevich said.
The governor said he hadn't talked to Rezko in several months, but said in recent years Rezko "reassured me over and over again ... that he had no involvement in any of these rumors that were swirling about, reassured me time and time again."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.)
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